The Putnam D. McMillan Fund and the Friends of Bruce Dayton Art Acquisition Fundexpand_more 2017.5
This sculpture was originally the head of a standing figure of a bodhisattva—a being who has forestalled its own passage to nirvana in order to guide others to salvation. Carved fully in the round, with a serene expression and gracefully curved downcast eyes, it wears an elaborate crown that is secured by knotted ribbons that hang down behind its ears. These characteristic knots of scarves help date the sculpture to the Sui dynasty. The figure represents some important changes in Buddhist art in China. It exhibits a new fashion for elaboration and ornament that emerged at this time. It also demonstrates a contemporary trend to create freestanding sculptures rather than high reliefs in cave temples or on complex stele (upright slabs).
In recent years, Mia’s collection of early Chinese Buddhist sculptures dating from the Northern dynasties to the Song dynasty has grown rapidly. We have representative sculptures of Buddha and bodhisattva heads dating from Northern Qi (550–77), Tang (618–907), and Song (960–1279) periods. The present work, a masterpiece carved in the Sui dynasty (581–618), bridges a gap between the Northern dynasties and Tang, and therefore is an extremely welcome addition to the collection.